Thoughts About Justice and the Christian Life…

There is no peace without justice while we are living “east of Eden.” If shalom (universal peace and flourishing ) is the end goal of all of creation (human and non-human), then peaceableness is the top floor of shalom and justice is the bottom floor, the foundation; they are book ends if you will (read my thoughts about peace here).

So what is justice? In the Greek culture, justice most likely referred to the Greek goddess Dike, who would have been the personification of the virtue. This is where the Greek (and biblical) word díkaios would have come from, which means, “to be just, or right.” In the biblical sense, the word justice would imply not only the just execution of the law of goodness, but right living on behalf of those who cry out for justice.

The words “righteous” and “justice” seem to go hand in hand in the biblical narrative, and they actually could be defined by the term justification. In salvation terms, to be justified, is to be declared “right and good” before God and having been justly acquitted of one’s rebellion and brokenness because Jesus paid for what we deserved (justice) with his sacrifice.

So justice, in part, means to be free and forgiven of one’s inner and outer brokenness, and empowered to do what is right based on the freedom one has received. This is the long and difficult way of simply saying: justice is that state in which everyone receives what is rightful and appropriate. Since humans are created with certain rights (food, clothing, work), then a society is just when everyone in the society enjoys the goods that everyone has rights to. But a society is also just when there are consequences for those who have disregarded or kept others from these certain rights as well. A city that is just is a city that respects the dignity of every human, especially within the Christian worldview that believes that every human is created in the image of God.

At the least, in the talk of renewal, justice is absent whenever basic needs go unmet. This means that liberation from in-justice and repairs made because of the wrongs done are at the very core of justice. If one skimmed the Old Testament to search out who were some of the people whom God had special concern for in view of justice, you would see that it is the most vulnerable of society: widows, orphans, aliens, sojourners, the homeless, the naked, the hungry and the afflicted. And this justice was never a nationalistic priority that made one nation or one people group more important than another. Actually, we can see in the narrative of Scripture, when Israel took their nationality too seriously, or saw themselves as more important or elite and selfish, correction swiftly followed. Humans, universally, who are a part of the demographics of God’s special concern are to be an integral part of our every day relationships.

If we followed this theme throughout the Old Testament, it would be hard to ignore the loud and clear message that justice happens when the marginal ones are no longer marginal. And this Old Testament understanding of justice is fully embodied in Jesus, who was very concerned with those who were on the margins of society, those who were vulnerable and exploited by people who had the power, and in many cases, Western Christendom has been more about law and power than justice and service.

This can also be teased out to include all who have ever come to Jesus for salvation (the forgiveness of one’s sin and being declared right before God). We are all marginalized because of our brokenness, cut off from God, but because of God’s mercy and love for us, Jesus became one of us, to once and for all, deal with the rebellion and tyranny that we created, both internally and externally. God brought justice to humanity through the advent, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The righteous demands of the law, or in other words, the legal expression of God’s justice, were satisfied when Christ was put to death and suffered the torment of separation from God, in our place. In simpler terms, it is because the “just” paid for the “unjust,” that we can be granted mercy and grace as people on the margins, and be brought near to God (no longer making our home in the margins).

This is justice, which flies in the face of a Western view of justice, condemns all of us, if we indeed held ourselves to the standard of justice that we hold others to. Justice does not make sense to a world committed to the four P’s: power, progress, profit, and pursuit of happiness, and within this world view, many forms of churches in the West have been engrafted.

When we see injustice happening in our city, it usually means that we will have to miss out on one or all of the four P’s if we’re going to stand against it. There’s no money in it for those who want to plead the case of the widow, feed and clothe the naked, or stand against oppressive systems and structures that abuse and exploit the weak. Actually, downward mobility is to be expected if one is going to give their lives to this kind of justice, and it’s hard to build a church when downward mobility is one of the chief engines of church growth. This new ethos must be present in the renewal of the Western church.

The result of living a life of justice in the biblical sense in our 21st century Western society, most of the time, means that we lose ground on the four P’s of our culture and this is not very attractive, at least not long term. To see renewal happen in churches then, I am convinced that we will need an uprising of men and women who are willing to not be controlled by the P’s within the old institutional church model, and begin courageously living as an alternative community in the midst of our over-indulgences and commitments to the bottom line and financial sustainability of church business.

This will not be an easy lot for the pioneers of renewal, but justice has never been an easy virtue to live by. After all, justice on God’s part was very costly. The promise of comfort is very seductive, especially when faced with needed changes in lifestyle to begin standing against injustice. Ultimately, justice will always prevail, with or without us, but we do have a choice to get in on the fight for “justice.” It’s not attractive nor easy these days to stand for what is just and right, nor is it always clear what we should be fighting for.

I hope in this short article I gave you the beginnings of a blueprint with which to pray and meditate about what justice looks life in your life and among those around you. We are living within a contemporary Christian culture that has lost much of the ancient orthodox faith that has painstakingly been passed down to us and made Christian worship more about events, projects, and business, but not justice. I believe this “norm” must be renewed to have not just a biblical view of justice, but a biblical life of lived justice.

Advertisements

Leadership in America

Leadership is an important thing in the life of an entity, especially a nation. There’s a lot of talk these days about wanting a good, virtuous leader to be our commander in chief. The problem is, we all have a different idea of what it means to be virtuous and good. Many point back to our founding fathers and say that we need those kind of leaders. Below is a quote from James Madison, one of the chief architects of our original constitution:

Being Faithful in the Darkness

Darkness is a weird thing. In our Christian worldview, it never seems to be used positively, but it seems I’ve been in darkness (or fog or some kind of unknowing) for a while and I don’t believe it’s because of my unbelief or anything like that. My tendency in life is to assume that if life is dark and dreary, there must be sin in my life, or the evil one must be causing this darkness.

This certainly can be true of darkness at times, but is it always the case. Can darkness be good? Could God be the one leading me into the dark? After all, it was Jesus who led his disciples at an hour of darkness, to boat across to the other side of the the great sea.

So as I ponder this darkness, the ways of God, and the position of my heart and mind, it must be dark because there’s something in the dark that I can only learn here, where the lights are off, or really dim, and clarity is not a close friend. 

On a positive note, I can see stars at night only because the dark sky and the moon looks much more extravagant with a dark back drop. I sleep (and rest) better in the dark; I usually don’t labor physically when it’s dark either. I love the coolness of the dark in the spring and fall in Phx. 
The darkness is refreshing after 115 degrees heat all day in the summer, even if it’s still 105 degrees at midnight. Darkness gives plants and animals rest from the scorching sun all day. Fires and fireworks are much more enjoyable in the dark. The darkness humbles me as it exposes who I really am–all my fears, insecurities, and–and it also gives me a sense of comfort, knowing that the day of toiling is over and rest is coming. 
Those are some things I’m realizing that are better in the dark, so maybe this season of darkness that isn’t lifting (for over 2 years) is more purposeful than I believe it to be. I hope it is, but I have to admit that I hate it at times. I’m tired of being in this place of unknowing that only offers a visibility of 24 hours or less. I long for something new and fresh, something to come in and sweep me off my feet, something that is more intimate and deeper than ever before. 

And even as I write this, I’m reminded that deeper almost always means darker before it can be translated into something good. The deeper you dive into the ocean, the darker it gets, but then again, some of the most precious pearls are forged in the pressures of deep, dark waters. But those places are scary and not desirable, unless there’s a guide, a trained professional to lead me down there. 

This is where God’s role comes into play, as well as a community of friends and family who are courageous enough to walk with you and sit with you on the bottom of the ocean. God will make his bed in Sheol for his children. 

I hate the pain and fear of the dark and God’s seeming silence is horrible. It’s as if I’ve had years of tender care as an infant and toddler and now God, as a good parent, re-fathering me if you will, is putting me up on my two feet and telling me to walk, trust, to remember that I’m done nursing and I need to trust that he’s always near me even when it’s dark and he’s silent and I can’t see his face, or even see what tomorrow holds. I hear him saying, “I’ve got this Jeff. Trust who you’ve become. Be patient and faithful in the darkness. I will not disappoint you.” And my heart’s response is “Ok, I don’t want to refuse you anything you ask God, but I have to be honest, I have fear and doubt and need you to meet me at those places.” 

So for now, darkness is a companion, one I don’t want to scorn or make to be an enemy of light, nor do I want to wrongly celebrate. But I think maybe it’s only through being in the dark for long periods of time where we can actually long for the true light. Or maybe it’s in the dark where we learn that the true light is in us and we can be okay when darkness comes and stays for a while. Maybe darkness wasn’t meant to be a bad place. After all, it was darkness that arrived first in the Genesis narrative, and all that God had made was good. Who knows? 

St. John of the Cross likens darkness in the life of someone pursuing Christ as moments of mysterious and divine closeness. He likens it to the sun, if it were to be stared into with our eyes, it would make our senses go dark, but that wouldn’t mean the sun stopped shining; it just means that our senses are limited and can only take in so much light until God graciously clouds his presence, so as to not overwhelm or destroy us. 

I trust this graciousness today and hold onto the hope that light is always shining, and my senses are being refined more and more to take in this beautiful, life-giving light.

A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:16

Here it is! Can you feel it in the air? Can you sense something’s changed. Christ kept his word. He never left us. He broke into human history again. This time, as an infection of the soul. A divine breathe from heaven came down and breathed onto humanity. An outside force, different than anything from this world, brought it’s power and made itself known. Fire. Wind. Hearts a-flamed. Souls torn through by a mysterious blowing wind.

Mankind is promised to never be the same. Many will try to grab this power and wield it for themselves. Many will doubt this power and say it’s not real. Many will over exaggerate what this fire is doing. But mark my words, this presence of God, his Spirit, is here, and he has brought radical change, a new way to be human. This is something that you receive, not take. The Spirit is only received through hearts that are soft and surrendered to God’s ways, particularly, God’s way of love and truth. As Pentecost sets in today, we’ll turn our final gaze to Ephesians.

The Connected Body – Ephesians 4:16

16 Under his control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love.

As we come to the end of the this week’s journey, we close with a word picture that Paul uses to focus our minds and hearts on what he’s been sharing. He’s not ending the chapter here, but he is tying up loose ends that he began back in chapter 1:

“God put all things under Christ’s feet and gave him to the church as supreme Lord over all things. The church is Christ’s body, the completion of him who himself completes all things everywhere” (vv. 22-23).

We are the body, under the control of Christ, the captain, our older brother. The word body in Greek is sṓma, which means “an organized whole made up of parts and members.” We are all different and diverse, working together as different parts of a body would work together, being interconnected by other members submitted to the oneness of Christ. As each part plays its role, every joint and member adds its strength and weakness to the whole body, which allows it to grow and mature in the love and truth of Christ Jesus.

So if we are the body of Christ, one body, then we all belong to one another. This means we are not merely called Christians, but “family members” joined by and with Christ, with a mission to make his beauty and worth known above every earthly treasure or passion.

Jesus Christ has a body here on earth called the Church. She has legs to go to the places that Jesus would go. She has arms to do the work that Jesus would do. She has mouths to say the things that Jesus would say. She has backs to carry the burdens that Jesus would carry. She has new hearts to love the people Jesus would love. She has one aim in the world, to make Christ’s body real through displaying her oneness in love. Go into the world, in beautiful ways, showing how much Christ loves.

A Prayer For Us Today

Lord God, you are on a mission and it will not fail. You have displayed your glory through gathered men and women throughout the ages. Bless our gathering today and in days to come. You have called us to join you on this mission to reconcile men and women back to yourself, to call them to a family reunion, a family that was broken and dispersed after the fall of man. We thank you that you never stop pursuing us and that you promise to return to complete the reunion once and for all. Make us one today in Christ Jesus as we imperfectly worship together with only parts of the body, but not the whole. We long for the day we are fully one. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

When Jesus came to the earth, he did not establish a church or a program; he did not write a book or publish any of his sermons. Instead, he gathered people and said, “Follow Me.” God’s reconciliation plan is for us to follow him in relationship, and in the process of following him, we are to build other relationships. The kingdom of God grows and unites one heart at a time.

Are you ready to play your part? Will you commit to building relationships with those across the aisle from you, or with those from another theological camp? Can you commit to getting to know the neighbors who live behind the handful of doors on your actual street? God’s plan is and has always been about relationships. Go ahead, be the body and build relationships with other members waiting to be reunited to the new family. A good start would be to join us today, at some point in the day, at this worship gathering downtown at the convention center. Happy Pentecost!

-1

A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:15

Easter is almost over, Pentecost is one evening away. As this Easter season closes, may we be brought under the authority of Christ’s love, love that changes us in ways that are mysterious to us. Today, my desire is to bump up against Jesus in such a way that we experience him as loving savior who has made a way for us to be re-united with our Father in heaven, so that we can not just be children of God, but step into our true identity of being sons and daughters.

The Head of the Body – Ephesians 4:15

Instead, by speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ, who is the head.

Many people know that the “love chapter” of the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13, but did you know that, besides that chapter, the letter of Ephesians has more references to love per page than anywhere else in all of Paul’s letters? Here he addresses the really big issue of unity, which is birthed from love and rooted in truth, namely the love and truth of Jesus.

God’s redeeming purposes are clearly spelled out in the first three chapters of Ephesians, and now we have been seeing how his plan of redemption is ‘supposed to’ play out in the lives of his children. Those who have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly world” (Eph. 1:3) are being called to live out the vocation (calling) of that blessing under the headship of the only King, Jesus. And Paul is now saying that the life that is found under the headship of Christ is the life that will learn to speak the truth in love.

If you have been following along with the scripture journey this week, one thing you may have noticed is that Paul does not give us a list of do’s and don’ts, nor does he offer any easy suggestions as to how we are to mature and walk in the oneness that is already ours in Christ. What he has done, however, is offer us an invitation. Indeed, he has exhorted us to be radically changed by Jesus’ grace through knowing and experiencing the oneness of God through the body life of Christ (the Church).

Now we are being reminded that this change only happens as we are conformed to the head of the Church, Jesus Christ. This is impossible on our own, and we are sure to not be changed on our own as we stumble through obedience, but the pursuit and desire to love and be truthful is the very means by which we begin to be changed. Jesus sees hearts; hearts desiring to love and live in truth. He doesn’t major on behavior, because if hearts are changed, love and truth follow.

We are being urged by Paul to align every aspect of our lives under the authority of Christ Jesus; he is the final say. It is Christ who has established one new humanity, and it is only Christ who can lead and direct enemies to come together as one body, so that the world will know him. Although diverse and at varying levels of maturity, we must always demonstrate before the world our unity in Christ, as much as it depends on us.

A Prayer For Us Today

Father, you graciously sent your only Son to earth. He submitted to and obeyed your will and gave his life as a ransom for many. You sent the Holy Spirit for the empowerment of the whole body, working together in harmony under the head of the Church, Christ Jesus our Lord. Make your name known throughout all the earth, as we labor to be people of truth and love. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, the head of the Church. As leaders come and go, even among many hierarchical traditions, we are to honor Jesus above all others. Have you honored traditions and leaders more than Jesus? Is submission to Jesus difficult for you? Do you struggle with Jesus having the final say in your life?

-1

A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:14

Many people are afraid of the slippery slope of unity because there have been many pursuits towards unity, by well (and surely some unwell) intended believers who have let the idea of unity become greater than the God of unity. Today, we turn our gaze once again to the orchestrator, the conductor if you will, and to keep the symphony theme going, the very source of all the diverse instruments that are used to play together in harmony, Christ Jesus. If He is lost in all of our pursuits of unity, we will never have unity.

The Armored Body – Ephesians 4:14

Then we shall no longer be children, carried by the waves and blown about by every shifting wind of the teaching of deceitful people, who lead others into error by the tricks they invent.

There is a danger is desiring unity at the expense of losing Jesus as the center. There is also danger in thinking that our ways are the best ways, and everyone else has missed out on God’s purpose for the Church. Many of the church divisions of the past and present end up forming churches and parishes that often look nothing like what we learn from the apostle Paul.

Jesus clearly called out the religious leaders of his day. In fact, it was always the leaders with whom Jesus was angry— those who were out to make money on the weak, the emotionally fragile, the naive, the ones who were full of guilt. Jesus called them a brood of vipers, hypocrites. They had an outward appearance of holiness, but their insides, their hearts, were far from God (Matthew 23).

God has equipped the body of Christ to withstand the schemes of the devil and the trickery of those who do not want Jesus, but prefer profit and selfish gain (those who suffer from the “me” and now” syndrome we discussed in the previous post). God wants the Church to grow up, rejecting hypocrisy. We must not be known in the world as those who say holy things with their lips, but live deceitful lives. God desires that we recognize the counterfeits and resist them, so that Jesus is the One who is followed, not denominations, movements, or church leaders.

Paul knows this will be a struggle within the Church, and this is why, at the end of this letter, he speaks of the Church arming herself, not with a material armor, but a spiritual armor to combat the real enemy, the rulers and authorities, the cosmic powers over this present darkness, and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph. 6:10-20).

Putting Christ at the center of our pursuit, and allowing Him to stay the center of our pursuit are two different things, and we must be intentional to labor towards both. Christ is Lord, we are not. May the journey towards unity lead us closer to (and more intimately united with) Jesus and not our ideas of unity.

A Prayer For Us Today

Lord Jesus Christ, we are all susceptible to lies and schemes that twist the truth. Grant us grace that we would have the wisdom and discernment to see counterfeits and run from them. Help us as we labor toward maturity and the building up of the whole body, so that we are not children tossed and broken as if by the waves of the sea. We don’t want to bring shame upon your name through our actions. Purify your Church, remove corrupt leaders, and bring us to unity in your Son, for your glory. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

The ways of the devil are tricky and he desires to disrupt the life of Christ’s body, the Church. Is there trickery in your life that you need to confess and move on from? Bringing things to light in love is always the best way to combat the schemes of the enemy (1 John 1:5-10).

-1

A Journey Towards Unity – Ephesians 4:12-14a

This is the final week of Easter. Pentecost awaits us. Something utterly different awaits God’s people. Something fresh is coming. Something new. This is what the first Christians after Christ ascended to be sit next to the Father, knew nothing of, except that they were to wait for the Holy Spirit to come to them. Pentecost is the day of new newness; the day the ancient Hebrews received the Law, and the now it’s celebrated as the day the new Law become clear. Christ in us. We become the new temple, the place that God actually dwells; a place that He longs to be. This is why unity is so precious. When God’s people, the new temple, work together and display Christ together, He can more easily and radically be seen. The temple was built by many parts, using their gifts to display the beauty and worth of Jesus in His temple. Here’s the Ephesians 4 passage for today:

The Grown-Up Body – Ephesians 4:12-14a

12 He did this to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. 13 And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature. 14 Then we shall no longer be children…

As we learned in the previous post, the gifts of God were given to the people of God so that the body of Christ would make God’s oneness and presence known to all. This passage in Ephesians 4 is about the whole body, every member, growing up into maturity, which in Paul’s mind is unity, not uniformity. The various apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching gifts noted in verse 11 were given to certain people, not so that those people could do all the work of ministry, but so that every member of the body, the whole temple, diverse in each individual part, would be trained and equipped to share in the work of making God’s oneness known.

God is so utterly concerned with the building up of his body (the temple) into the fullness of Christ that he has ensured, in every region and in every era, there would be those who are gifted to equip the members of Christ’s body to be witnesses of Christ Himself. There would be those who speak with power the Word of God; others who would announce the good news to those who are far off; those who would look after local churches; and those who would teach the whole counsel of God, and so on.

It takes the whole body and all the gifts of God working together to build up the body of Christ into maturity. As a mature body, we will avoid hurting each other with selfish motives and petty arguments, much like children who frustrate parents with their “me” and “now” syndromes – i.e. “It’s all about me” and “I want what I want now.” We belong to one another and we are called to grow up, to mature, to put away our childish ways, and be ready to be used for the sake of the whole.

A Prayer For Us Today

Father, we are your children, set free from sin because of the life, death, and resurrection of your Son, Jesus. Help us also to break free from our childish ways, growing into maturity. Give us grace to use our gifts, to stop caring only about “me” and for wanting what we want “now.” Give us vision for the future, for what will be when you return, so we can live out your will for us today, and your oneness will be seen by those who are far from you. Amen.

For Those Who Want To Go Deeper

If our life in Christ means that we will always be growing up, then in what ways do you need to grow up? Be honest with yourself; the Father loves you unconditionally. How does your church or denomination need to mature? Do you suffer from the “me” and “now” syndromes?

-1